A guest post from Professor Alf Baird.


It might come as a shock to learn that one of the world’s most successful ferry designers happens to be a Scotsman, yet his repeated offers to build and invest in ferries in Scotland have been rejected by the Scottish Government and its hapless ferry agencies CMAL and CalMac. Dr. Stuart Ballantyne, chairman of Australian-based Sea Transport Corp, is also the inventor of the now standard global ferry type known as the ‘medium-speed ropax catamaran’; ‘ropax’ is the industry term for a drive on/off vehicle and passenger ferry.

I had the immense privilege of working with Stuart and his team on numerous ferry projects and studies over the past thirty years. As a maritime economist, my job was to study the feasibility of ferries and other ship types on different shipping routes worldwide, for public and private sector clients and research funding agencies including the European Commission and Nippon Foundation. Being an academic I also developed and published theoretical frameworks to assist with ferry design and operational analyses and assessments. 

Stuart Ballantyne, Chair of Sea Transport Corporation

Over this period I was lucky enough to work with several of the best international designers and builders of ferries in all sectors of the business covering: small, medium and large ferries, passenger-only ferries, passenger and vehicles (ropax)ferries, cruise-ferries, high-speed and medium-speed ferries, steel and aluminium hulls or a combination of both, as well as freight-only ferries, pure car carriers etc. 

This included studies on the smallest car ferries, such as the 2-car capacity ‘Cromarty Rose’ for which the recommendation was to strip away part of the cabin superstructure in order to increase car capacity by 50%, to load 3 cars! And some of the largest, such as the 200m+ long, 50,000 tonne, 2000+passenger, 500-cars/150+ trucks cruise-ferries now running out of Barcelona and Genoa to various destinations throughout the Mediterranean. Numerous ferry services were initially started under the Italian Government’s ‘Autostradedel Mare’ initiative to shift trucks from road to sea, which led in turn to my involvement in helping develop the European Commission’s ‘Motorways of the Sea’ (MoS) policy covering modal shift on all sea areas in Europe. 

I was also involved in studies on the fastest ferries too, such as the innovative 40+ knot HSS (high-speed sea service) fleet designed and built by Stena of Gothenburg. The securing of the 2 x 29-knot brand new Superfast cruise ferries for the Rosyth-Zeebrugge service, which started in May 2002, was the outcome of another EU funded study I led, but more on that particular story some other time, and why the service ended prematurely.

In what we might call the ‘small-to-medium’ ropax ferry sector, that is vehicle ferries between 30m-130m in length, and medium-speed (i.e. speeds below 24 knots), Stuart Ballantyne has developed a world leading product in his steel-hull catamaran designs. What I mean by this is that nobody else is able to get anywhere close to his designs in terms of vessel capital and operating cost for a ferry of similar loading capacity and service speed. His is the leading and increasingly standardised solution, designed and built to operate on any ferry route. A more rapid build time is another big advantageof Stuart’s proven designs.

This explains why Stuart’s ferry designs, which his company also manages the building of in different shipyards under license, have been sold worldwide, including in the Americas and Caribbean, Europe, Mid-East, Asia, and of course Australasia and Polynesia where multihulls (catamarans and trimarans) have been around for a long time. 

I worked on various studies and advised ferry operators who subsequently purchased and now operate Stuart’s ferries safely, reliably and profitably. This includes operations in such diverse markets as OmanPhilippines, and Orkney. It is no accident that Stuart is a former chair of the global ferry industry association – Interferry – and was behind the creation of the World Ferry Safety Association, his designs being the safest on the market. His ferry industry expertise and success is recognised globally, and more than merits the honorary doctorate he was awarded by his alma mater, Strathclyde University, where he initially studied naval architecture after a career at sea.

The Stuart Ballantyne/Sea Transport Corp designed 70m/75-car capacity medium-speed ropax catamaran mv ‘Pentalina’, owned and operated by Pentland Ferries

Stuart has tried many times to convince the Scottish Government and its ferry agencies CMAL and CalMac to invest in his world-beating designs. His standard medium-speed, 100-car capacity catamaran ferry design costs only around £15 million to build, yet the Scottish Government are spending more than three times as much – £50 million – for similar capacity and speed, in-house specified monohull ferries. That’s a massive difference in anyone’s book. In addition, operating costs of the catamaran are half that of the monohull, which in aggregate represents an even bigger saving – £100+ million per vessel – over the expected 25 year life of a ferry. Residual value of the lower cost catamaran is also far superior.

A lesser power requirement for the catamaran, a function of its much lower displacement and hence higher efficiency carrying the same payload, means that fuel consumed and engine emissions are about half that of a CMAL ferry. That suggests a change to catamarans would also help reduce CalMac’s annual operating subsidy, which currently stands at over £100 million per annum, halving emissions at the same time. With lower powered craft there is also greater scope to move to zero emissions sooner using battery and/or other energy sources such as methanol or hydrogen.

The two CMAL/CalMac specified ferries currently still under construction at Ferguson’s, a yard now owned by the Scottish Government, may eventually cost as much as £150 million each, or £300 million in total. £300 million is more than enough to build 20 ferries of Stuart’s larger 100-car capacity Lloyds Register classed designs, or sufficient to replace the entire 31-ship CalMac fleet with a mix of smaller and larger sizes of proven, low-cost, medium-speed ferries.

From an international ferry industry perspective, what the Scottish Government and its ferry agencies are doing seems like economic and commercial madness. The Holyrood committee of MSP’s investigating Scottish Government ferries procurement were right to describe the ongoing delay and cost overruns debacle surrounding CMAL ferry hulls 801/02 as a ‘catastrophic failure’. However, the real worry is that those same people responsible for that ‘catastrophic failure’, as reflecting the absence of any accountability in the matter, appear to be about to do more of the same, unless a different approach is taken.

It takes half the time to build one of Stuart’s proven ferry designs than a traditional ‘heavy displacement’ CalMac in-house specified boat. This is because the latter is always a one-off bespoke design, full of ill-considered compromises and unnecessary add-ons, which translates into extra materials, a lot of extra weight, and hence added power needed, plus an inefficient hull form; which is a big added cost and risk factor, as anyone can readily see with the two delayed boats at Ferguson’s. 

CalMac’s in-house specified, one-off, heavy displacement monohull ferries therefore take twice as long to build as a standard production line design (e.g. 4 years for Finlaggan, 3 years for Loch Seaforth), whilst the two CMAL ships still under construction at Ferguson’s have already taken around 5-6 years and are nowhere near completion, all at enormous added and unnecessary cost to the taxpayer. In sharp contrast, Stuart’s proven, high-efficiency designs take just 18-24 months to build for the biggest boats, even less for smaller versions. 

We might imagine for a moment the challenge and risks in designing and building an entirely new car model, which is twice as heavy as standard models, as opposed to simply buying a proven, guaranteed Ford Fiesta from a car showroom for a third of the price. CMAL/CalMac and the Scottish Government opt to do the former, which explains why it costs three times more and results in horrendous ongoing problems, with added risks and costs over the ship’s lifetime. This also helps explain why Scotland has the highest ferry subsidies in the world and simultaneously one of the most outdated and irregular ferry fleets.

From a maritime economics perspective it is relatively easy to demonstrate how things could be done much better and at lower cost based on superior proven systems and ferry designs. For example, the thirty new ferries (yes 30!), each with 55-car capacity, which Stuart’s company has been building for operations along both east and west coasts of the Philippine archipelago have been rapidly coming on stream, with at least 2 ships being delivered annually as the norm, vessel numbers 19 and 20 recently entering service there. Here the operator also benefits from significant economies of scale in standardised ferry production, keeping the cost of each new ship even lower.

That contract is for what is now the biggest ferry company in the Philippines, the latter working in collaboration with national bus operator Philtranco to provide a truly integrated national transport system as part of the government’s national Nautical Highway Project. Next stage in the company’s development plan is to build even more catamaran ferries for start-up of new international connections.

Clearly, Scotland can learn a great deal from the Philippines and elsewhere about how to develop an advanced ferry transport system, and where the highest levels of efficiency and commercial success is built around the practical and competitive ferry designs of a very skilled Scottish naval architect. 

One of the 30 ferries Stuart Ballantyne’s company has designed and is building for the Philippines

Stuart’s company, which has enormous global experience and learning in the ferry sector, has several times offered Scottish Government Ministers and officials the opportunity to build under license in Scotland his successful, proven, low-cost,advanced design of ferries, which are world leading in terms of efficiency and low emissions. That offer has been repeatedly rejected in favour of CMAL/CalMac’s far more costly and clearly riskier, in-house specified, one-off ferry designs; the latter are ferry specifications that nobody else anywhere is copying, far less building, and for good reason –they are simply terrible boats, especially in an economic and business sense, as well as environmentally. That also means they are bad news for the Scottish taxpayer, and for ferry users, which reflects the present reality and widespread dissatisfaction with current ferry operations.

Several island ferry user groups, notably Arran and Mull & Iona, have made robust business cases pleading for the Scottish Government to acquire Stuart’s far superior proven ferries. But officials and Ministers continue to refuse these reasonable requests. Island communities are left with a poor and ever deteriorating service as a result, most with little hope of seeing a new ferry in years.

As would be expected of a successful entrepreneur, Ferguson’s former owner Jim McColl expressed strong interest in working with Stuart’s company to build 30 new lower-cost catamarans needed for CalMac under license at Ferguson’s. Jim McColl was also aware that there is a desperate need to build a further 20 new, small-medium size ferries for Orkney and Shetland inter-island routes, giving a total order book potential for at least 50 ferries in Scotland alone. But the blockage on progress remains Scotland’s national ferry agencies, CMAL and CalMac and the Scottish Government, and the RMT union, who still insist on their own in-house ferry specifications and hence far more costly, heavy displacement monohull ferries.

One of several Stuart Ballantyne designed ferriesoperating in Venezuela and the Caribbean

Meantime, other maritime sectors are rapidly shifting to building catamarans instead of monohulls. This includes hundreds of workboats used in offshore renewables, and in fish farming. Catamarans offer a much wider and hence more stable proven platform, at lower cost to build and operate than a monohull. Stuart Ballantyne’s company also offer its advanced designs for military needs, which it has supplied to various customers including the Indian navy. This means that there are significant opportunities across several maritime sectors for proven catamaran designs, in addition to ferries, and a yard (or yards) in Scotland with this capability and access to the best designs and systems available need never be short of business.

So the offer to build perhaps 50 ferries of arguably the best proven, global, small-medium sized ferry designs, in Scotland, remains blocked by the Scottish Government and its ferry agencies who continue with a preference for their own far more expensive poorly specified boats. This approach inevitably means far fewer new boats will be built, and any that are built will take a lot longer to deliver. CMAL has been unable to deliver even one new ferry a year, which suggests at the current rate they will be unable to replace the present 30-ship CalMac fleet even over the next 30 years, assuming the ferries budget stretches that far. That will only serve to worsen the present unacceptable situation, meaning a continued lack of adequate ferry capacity for the islands, which in turn constrains their economic and social development.

My other related paper on this matter highlights the ‘mediocre meritocracy’ that is making decisions on ferry procurement policy in Scotland, lacking in the right expertise or insights, and how allegiance to another nation’s interests, culture and political/economic ideology may influence priorities and distort decision making, which ultimately serves to undermine Scotland’s interests. And here Alasdair Gray hit on something when he said that too many Scots are lacking in “confidence in their own land and people”.

The Scottish Government has allocated a further £600 million for ferry investment, though with a spending squeeze on the horizon that figure seems unlikely. The government’s intention appears to be to continue spending money on buying a handful of poorly specified, over-expensive, and highly inefficient ferries that take many years more to build and cost much more to operate than proven designs. This practice has been going on for decades and has never delivered an acceptable outcome, and never will. Moreover, future orders under this scenario now look likely to be built outside Scotland (again), leaving a question mark over the future of Ferguson’s. 

Alternatively, government could take the more sensible route outlined here, by accepting Stuart Ballantyne’s proposal and building many more ferries of proven designs at much lower cost, all in Scotland. All that would require is to bring in the best global skills and expertise in ship design and build management, which in this case also fortunately happens to be Scottish. Stuart Ballantyne is the Turnaround Director that Ferguson’s (and CMAL) should have had, and still could have.

By adopting the right strategy and putting in place the right expertise, as well as some passion, Scotland has a chance to create and safeguard many more jobs in shipbuilding and the supply chain, as well as rapidly renewing a desperately outmoded national ferry fleet for the long-term benefit of island communities and the wider economy. Such a strategy would also provide a good basis for building export potential for future ferry production based on superior global designs.

This kind of concrete and positive action, however, requires a change in the cultural mindset and therefore a change in the people who make key decisions on ferries, and with that a change in our priorities, with a focus on the national development of Scotland and its people. That is what an independence-minded national government should be about anyway, investing in and building up the competence and confidence of a people and nation. Given the iconic nature and proud history of Clyde shipbuilding, that would seem a good place to start. The opportunity is there; we can either take it, or continue to ignore it, much the same with independence.


Like anyone who watched the Scottish Parliament ”investigation” into the ferry debacle I was astonished at the clear lack of knowledge of some of the participants. it seemed clear to me they had no idea about the issues, were blind and obstructive to ideas and innovation, content to ignore a mountain of evidence that their current plans were a scandalous misuse of public funds for a much inferior and hugely expensive design that was outdated and super expensive to build. That would only offer a much inferior service. We will see what happens now. Are they still blinkered? If they are they should not be in Parliament as they are incapable of defending and promoting the public interest. Indeed, that might well be the root of all our problems, not just with ferries.

I am, as always



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33 thoughts on “HOW TO END THE MADNESS

  1. This has all been dealt with really badly. What an absolute waste of money, our money. Why do the government not utilise the expertise of Stuart and yourself with great knowledge, experience abd track record of actually delivering these sorts of projects. I am bamboozled by the way they have handled this and it is our island Communities that continue to suffer due to, I believe, total incompetence and a lack of humility. If you want to deliver a project such as this you must look to use the best people with the necessary experience of delivering a quality product/service in that field but our leaders think they can do and know everything when they clearly cannot.

    Liked by 14 people

    1. Obviously , a la Gove, the Scottish Government is sick of experts – judging by their understanding of Biology that could land them in the Grimpen Mire.

      Seriously stupid to ignore the tried and tested, particularly as they have been lead by the nose to it – obdurate in the extreme.

      Liked by 6 people

  2. What a concise expose of the Scottish Government and their attitude to help. This lays out all the benefits, cost savings, time savings and environmental benefits yet still we have a SG digging themselves into a deeper hole. They are not ‘blinkered’ they are blind to innovation and forward thinking. This solution is a no brainier, even for those with no brains!

    Liked by 12 people

  3. That would make you weep. The expertise is there on offer, and turned down. We the taxpayers played for mugs, again.

    The problem seems to me the total lack or credibility in government ministers. Chosen because the are pals of the great she who must be obeyed, with no knowledge or understanding of their remit in the job. It’s totally surreal. All of my working life and almost forty years of it running our own business, if someone came to you and suggested that they could save you vast amounts of money by doing things in a different way, I would get the coffee on and sit down and listen to them carefully. You ask a lot of questions and weigh it all up and see if it’s suitable for your business model. It’s shocking that a man of Jim McColl’s expertise, who wanted to follow this model. A man who knows and understands what he is talking about is dismissed in this manner by a bunch of clowns in parliament with no thought for the improvement of their country or it’s citizens. I would have fired the lot of them. That won’t happen though, will it.

    Holyrood occupants really are a waste of space and our money. A more useless bunch of chancers I haven’t seen the likes of in a long long time. Sooner we can get rid of them, the sooner Scotland will be able to move forward and be a more outward looking progressive country that we should be.

    Liked by 15 people

  4. It’s also worth noting that this is not simply an appeal to end the CalMac hegemony. Pentland Ferries has 14 years of experience operating this catamaran in some of the toughest seas around our coast. The service has 6 crossings a day, EVERY day. For more information on Gills Bay to St. Margaret’s Hope service, see

    Iain: A guest post from CEO Andrew Banks or someone at the company would seem to be in order.

    Liked by 12 people

  5. From experience (mainly Scottish Water and SEPA), the folk “at the coal face” are brand new. It’s dealing with the upper echelons in “policy” where matters become frustrating.
    Working out their motivation is the eternal riddle. It certainly ain’t producing progress in the real world.
    Perhaps their focus lies entirely on pleasing their respective Ministers.
    Alex’s Ministers demanded results from their departments because Alex demanded results from them.
    Nicola demands unbending, personal loyalty from her Ministers. Results (and indeed competency) come a poor second.
    Between the Ministers and the QUANGO CEOs lie the senior Civil Servants. Invariably, middle class, humanities graduates. Producing material results (or being required to) clearly takes these folk out of their comfort zone.

    Liked by 15 people

    1. The other thing is that Salmond constantly reminded his Party and MSPs that the priority was to govern and govern well on the domestic front. That brought him an outright majority in 2011. Sadly, for Sturgeon governing well domestically doesn’t appear to matter. She seriously has become a dangerous liability while those alongside and behind her are too afraid to open their mouths.

      Liked by 3 people

  6. They are absolutely determined to complete these monohulls and the newbuildings on order from Turkey are more of the same.

    The present setup provides a very good living for large amounts of people at all levels – it is essentially a racket. Doing what is best for the communities they serve is a secondary consideration.

    The Scottish Government are prisoners of the “Experts” because they have no expertise in any practical field never mind just Ferries and Transport generally. Wall to to wall Politics, Law and History “Graduates” with little or no experience of real work – all they’re good for is political infighting and intrigue.

    Liked by 16 people

  7. This whole bourach is an embarassment. Who would have thought the leadership of the SNP would have sunk so low with such an abyssmaly poor grasp of political management or business. It beggars belief.

    Liked by 13 people

  8. Incredibly frustrating that there is a perfectly good solution – by a Scotsman nonetheless.
    Sadly it seems our govt in Scotland are riven with ideology and personal agendas.

    On a not-unrelated note, Now that the FIxed term parliaments act is no more, we should be pushing to return holyrood terms to 4 years. There is simply no good reason to have to wait until 2026 for a Scottish election. It should be 2025.,bill-extending-holyrood-parliamentary-term-to-five-years-introduced_6116.htm

    Liked by 11 people

    1. Scott I have been going on and on for ages about cutting the parliamentary term to 3 years to curtail and help prevent the lunacy we currently see from these morons , I know their usual excuse is the implementation of policies takes time and doesn’t show immediate benefits but if policies ARE beneficial that same govt could be returned , what we are suffering now is this dictator has lied to GAIN POWER and has 5 years to force reviled policies through against opposition ,with that opposition FORCED to take legal action which we have to pay for , and which we also have to pay the legal costs to defend the reviled policies

      Liked by 8 people

      1. I think it is more urgent than than that. We need a mecanism to recall an election if our Parliament is not acting in the best interests of the people of Scotland.
        According to recent posts on Iain’s blog, historically we have been able to depose Kings, eg James VII and II, for doing so, so why should this not apply to a Parliament?
        Our Parliament is the servant of the people, elected to carry out our wishes, not our master,

        Liked by 4 people

      2. TBQH Arayner I am sick of pointing this out I have been going on about a proper recall law for years with varying levels of “it wulnae work ” or “ye canny dae that they widnae let ye ” and THAT is exactly the problem , they WIDNAE let ye , because we wid boot their arses oot the door BUT we would end up wi politicians with honesty and integrity because when your finances depend on honesty ONLY the STUPID would risk it

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Steel hull catamarans built specifically for high sea state/high wave open sea areas have been operating successfully since 2011 on the notorious Pentland Firth Orkney-Caithness route. The first catamaran introduced there replaced two ex-Calmac ferries which Pentland Ferries used to operate previously. The catamarans provide a very reliable all year round service and are arguably more reliable than CalMac type monohulls which have much higher superstructure and hence are more subject to wind effects, plus a deeper draft; the catamaran also has four props which aids manoeuvrability in confined ports during bad weather (just two props on a monohull). Some more info about this here:

      Liked by 8 people

    2. The Pentland Firth is one the most dangerous crossings regarding tides and currents. Pentland Ferries successfully operated a twin hull there for six years.

      Liked by 7 people

  9. That’s a truly incredible read. The utter incompetence of this Holyrood administration defies belief. Imagine someone advising you to stop banging your head against a wall because you’ll hurt yourself, yet you keep on bashing it anyway?

    I thought Labour were bad… correction – I KNEW Labour were bad, but Sturgeon and her gang of numpties are giving them a run for the taxpayers’ money. There isn’t a thinker among that lot. Completely and utterly beyond useless. Launch an independence campaign when they can’t even launch a boat???

    Liked by 15 people

  10. I seem to remember, from Through a Scottish Prism show that procurement of ship building is not devolved. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that it is left to Westminster to decide who and where the ships are built.


    1. AFAIK it is MOD procurement that is reserved , as the SG is responsible for ferries it is a devolved responsibility

      Liked by 5 people

  11. Alf has written some starting truths over the years… But I don’t think any compare with the work above in terms of clarity and drama.

    The people in charge of procurement are a disgrace.

    This avoidance of help from Stuart Ballantyne, from the procurement team is nauseating… “Stuart’s company, which has enormous global experience and learning in the ferry sector, has several times offered Scottish Government Ministers and officials the opportunity to build under license in Scotland his successful, proven, low-cost,advanced design of ferries, which are world leading in terms of efficiency and low emissions. That offer has been repeatedly rejected in favour of CMAL/CalMac’s far more costly and clearly riskier, in-house specified, one-off ferry designs;”

    The fact that Jim McColl wanted to work with Stuart’s company, as a franchise producer of tried and trusted ferries shines a bright and worrying light onto the whole process. When CMAL rejected that proposal, they entered a new realm of possibilities… At least of criminal incompetence, possibly of commercial sabotage.

    Alf, this is a hard one to thank you for. But we owe you a huge debt of gratitude. You highlighted the brilliance of our boatbuilders and business people as well as the negilgence of our government procurement methodology.

    Make no mistake, this looks like the SNP signalling that they want businesses to waste money, make Scotland look incapable, and ready our services for privitisation. Classic Tory pillaging of state assets.

    Liked by 12 people

    1. Yes Don, going back to 2014 the then SNP political elite did want the boats to be built in Scotland; however, whether or not Whitehall’s civil servants running the Scottish Government and its ferry agencies in Scotland wanted them built here is perhaps another matter.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. Deskilling Scotland,, reducing its industrial engineering manufacturing base has been ongoing for some time now.

        Colonies, especially colonies that would break away, are not places where the coloniser likes to see vibrant strong industries. Just look at off shore wind where most of the engineering kit is manufactured elsewhere. The huge SeaGreen Project off the coast of Angus is an example of that where 114 absolutely huge jackets are being manufactured in Dubai and China whilst Scottish yards like BiFab, who wanted the work, went down the pan.

        And of course, Jim McColl could have worked with Stuart Ballantyne to produce under licence or under some other arrangement the boats that Ballantyne so successfully builds elsewhere.

        And then again, on the same theme, how many folks know that the Great Glen pump storage scheme in being upgraded to the extent that the upgrade will more than double the entire UK pump storage capacity. And do folks know that not one indigenous civil or engineering process contractor from Scotland, or indeed the UK is tendering to construct the upgrade.

        Fabulous isn’t it when you have the natural resources but not the ownership or the industrial industrial capital to gain from these resources. At least with the Great Oil and Gas Pillage Scotland built the rigs. But now these yards lie empty, defunct as the work is outsourced elsewhere.

        Ah, a destroyed industrial base makes so much sense for the coloniser. The ferries are but one part of a much bigger plan.

        Liked by 9 people

    2. The thing is Don they would have still got their wish of a ScotBuild because as Alf points out they could have been built under license in the Ferguson Yard by Ferguson’s welders , shiprights , joiners , carpenters , plumbers and all the rest of the tradespeople

      Liked by 6 people

    1. Yes, but, as Frantz Fanon noted: “the affirmation of the principle: ‘It’s them or us’ does not constitute a paradox, since colonialism… is in fact the organization of a Manichaean world, a world divided up into compartments.”

      Liked by 5 people

  12. If history has taught us anything it is that “House Jocks” have never worked for the betterment of Scotland, but only for their imperial masters and themselves. Why should we expect this colonial administration to be any different? It is failure by design!

    Liked by 4 people

  13. Andrew Banks offered Humza Yousaf to take over and run the West coast ferries build new vessels and run them with no subsidy, why has this not been looked into and implemented, this seemingly was four years ago or probably best part of a billion pounds ago cost to Holyrood. Really what a wealth of experience Andrew Banks could bring to the table both business and Nautical. Have they no idea of business at Holyrood surely after the present batch of blunders they will go cap in hand to him. Just a little extra, I see in the photo the Pentalina getting loaded with drop trailers when Lord of the Isles came on Oban Lochboisdale route we were told this was impossible

    Liked by 2 people

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